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Ghosts of Virginia past haunt FSU in controversial loss to UVA

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And the defense falls apart again.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In 1995, in Charlottesville, Florida State had one play left to beat Virginia, down 33-28. It ran a direct snap and came up just short, and Wahoo fans stormed the field. You don’t have to change much about that to explain how tonight ended. The big difference was that FSU was playing this one to tie, down 31-24. But the result was the same, as the Wahoos again stopped the ’Noles to celebrate a win and party at midfield.

Early on, FSU quarterback James Blackman was the story, but not for the right reasons. He started by getting throws off late and erratic, going 2-8 to begin as the Seminoles punted on their first three possessions after scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions in the season’s first two games.

The defensive story before the game began was that newly hired analyst Jim Leavitt would be both on the sideline and wearing a headset, and while we don’t really know exactly what his role was, something definitely changed for the better for Florida State— at a least for about three quarters. Faced with the prospect of containing a dangerous rushing QB in UVA’s Bryce Perkins, the front seven played smarter, assignment football, triggering and making run fits.

The defense allowed the Seminole offense time to find a rhythm, holding the Cavs to just three points on their first three drives, resulting in a 3-0 Wahoo lead after a quarter.

Emmett Rice got the start over Dontavious Jackson at linebacker, and made some solid plays; he was a good choice for this game, as his speed allowed him to play sideline to sideline, a big bonus against a threat like Perkins. Still, FSU’s linebackers continue to get lost in zone coverage, and when the ’Hoos were at their best, they were getting the ball out quickly and taking what the ’Nole defense provided— which, again, is ample with its LBs in coverage.

The backup defensive line had its best game of the year, with some nice series, and linebacker Amari Gainer keeps making his case to challenge for the job currently held by Leonard Warner III, who is routinely out of position against the pass.

FSU was the first to find the end zone, going up 7-3 in the second quarter when Blackman found tight end Gabe Nabers on a 10-yard pass in the flats. That drive was all tempo for the ’Noles— well, that and field position, as a terrible Virginia punt let Florida State take over at the UVA 39 and take just three plays to punch it in. The Wahoos are more talented than the Seminoles’ offensive front, but Blackman adjusted nicely by moving around in the pocket during this game, which gave himself — and his receivers — more time to make plays.

It was a back-and-forth contest from there on. The Cavaliers, not at all an explosive team offensively, used some big plays to strike back on the next drive for a 10-7 lead. But after trading punts, FSU countered with tight end Tre McKitty, whom Blackman found for a couple of first downs. McKitty had another nice night, with 70 receiving yards.

A clever little scramble in the red-zone saw Blackman find running back Cam Akers for a three-yard TD just before the break. 14-10, Seminoles, at the half.

After Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo tied a career high by hitting a 53-yard field goal that comprised all the third-quarter scoring, FSU took a 17-10 lead to the fourth. Virginia found its stride in the second half by working underneath, at one point completing 14 straight passes. That facilitated two straight TD drives for Virginia to start the fourth quarter, bookending an impressive FSU TD drive that was extended by a courageous third-and-10 grab by Tamorrion Terry (who led the team with 78 yards through the air) and was capped by a Keyshawn Helton TD. Helton got the nod in place of the suspended DJ Matthews.

After the second of those UVA scoring drives — one aided by three personal fouls on FSU — the game should have ben tied 24 all, but the ’Hoos shanked an extra point. FSU had a one-point lead and the ball with six minutes left. Cue the three and out.

Still, clinging to a 24-23 lead, the defense could have won this for the Seminoles. But the Seminoles’ fifth personal foul in the quarter continued to reflect their collapse (as well as a terrible call on Robert Cooper when he was simply finishing a play), as Virginia scored its third-straight TD to go up 29-24, 31-24 after Perkins demoralized a gassed FSU defense for the two-point conversion.

But the ’Noles had another shot, getting the ball back, down 7, with 2:34 remaining. A pass interference call and then an unsportsmanlike call on UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall advanced the ball to the 50. Terry then dusted his man on a double move, and was open by five yards for the tying score. But Blackman airmailed him for perhaps the worst miss of his career.

Another pass-interference calls and a roughing-the-passer whistle got FSU to within the UVA red zone, but right on script for this season, the glimmer of hope for Florida State was unceremoniously snuffed out by the Charlottesville night, as the clock ran out on the Seminoles’ final play from the UVA 4, when Akers battled hard but couldn’t find the end zone on a direct snap. He certainly didn’t get much help from a lackluster blocking “effort” from Terry.

However, the conclusion wasn’t without controversy, as national writers are noting:

Why couldn’t FSU spike it to stop the clock? More on that here. And more ACC play for the Seminoles on Saturday, when they’ll return to Tallahassee for their conference home-opener against Louisville,